Enigmatic, magnetic, elusive, and mysterious -- these words and others like them have been employed over the decades to describe actor/playwright Sam Shepard's cryptic persona and plays. After leaving a dead-end town in the middle of a California wasteland, a young... [more]
Enigmatic, magnetic, elusive, and mysterious -- these words and others like them have been employed over the decades to describe actor/playwright Sam Shepard's cryptic persona and plays. After leaving a dead-end town in the middle of a California wasteland, a young Shepard moved to America's biggest city, New York. The plays that poured out of Shepard were legion, surreal, and disturbing; as a friend from the early days remembered, "He wrote plays like other people took drugs." Leaving the drug scene of the early 1970s for a fresh start in England, Shepard began honing a voice and a theme. With the new eyes of an expatriate, he began writing about the rootless American semi-suburbia he'd abandoned.
Shepard moved back to the States in 1976 at the age of 32, trailing clouds of glory and an apocryphal reputation as a contentious new writing talent. His avant-garde plays sometimes lacked plots or action; theaters were often reluctant to stage works such as "Killer's Head", afraid of alienating an audience expecting predictable dramatic narratives. Shepard's most fertile period opened up with the dual influences of the painter Jackson Pollack who, according to Shepard, "discovered the explosion inside himself," and his mining of a new thematic ground -- the family drama. He collaborated with San Francisco's Magic Theater as writer-in-residence for an incredible production series that included "Buried Child"
(1979 Pulitzer Prize winner), "True West", and "Fool for Love". Meanwhile, Shepard's wrenching, prolific output was shaped more and more by the spectral presence of his father, Sam Sr. Ghosts from the past were expunged in Shepard's tightly wound prose of pain and empty spaces; Shepard alludes to the death of Sam Sr., who was run over while in a drunken stupor, in "Lie of the Mind" (1985).
His gallery of uprooted dreamers and alienated searchers brought Shepard a level of fame and acclaim almost unheard of for avant-garde playwrights. Shepard's matinee-idol looks and terse screen performances in hit films like "The Right Stuff" and "Country" fueled his mythic stature as a brilliant, battered loner. After a flurry of ancillary activity -- writing the screenplay for Wim Wender's "Paris, Texas", directing some films, and raising children with actress Jessica Lange -- Shepard's white-hot supernova of creative energy flew apart. Some 40 plays, two women, and three children into his most successful run yet, Shepard cracked. He's spent the last ten years or so picking up the pieces of his life, his work, and his myth. For the author whose work rides the narrow rails between devotion and deviance, freedom and fidelity, home and homelessness, Shepard's recent plays -- "States of Shock" (1993) and "Eyes for Consuela" (1998) -- focus on being here now, a new territory in Shepard's imaginary tundra, where restless wanderers flail through a rootless landscape of lack. [show less]